All we learned from FIBA 3x3 Universality Olympic Qualifying Tournament 1

15 Apr 2024

HONG KONG (China) - An absolutely epic FIBA 3x3 Universality Olympic Qualifying Tournament 1 saw Latvia (men) and Azerbaijan (women) book their tickets to Paris after an electrifying three days of competition from April 12-14. 

 Here's what we learned. 

Azerbaijan create history

There is a new force in women's 3x3 and that's Azerbaijan. One of the driving factors behind the development of 3x3 was to spread hoops into new frontiers and give smaller basketball nations opportunities to truly emerge. 

Azerbaijan, a nation of 10 million which gained independence in 1991, is the latest success story in 3x3 after their women's team qualified for the Olympics following a dazzling run in Hong Kong. 

They were probably seen as dark horses heading into the tournament, but those who watched last year's Women's Series knew Azerbaijan were the real deal. 

Even though they lost to top seed the Netherlands in pool play, Azerbaijan qualified for the semis where they overcame Hungary 21-19 in a classic. It set up the biggest game of their lives against Poland in the final and Azerbaijan overcame early nerves as the teams went toe-to-toe with Paris in their sights. 

OT was needed to decide the winner and that's where their big guns stepped with Tiffany Hayes and Alexandra Mollenhauer hitting the buckets that triggered joy for Azerbaijan and 10 million people back home.

Hayes proved she is a legit 3x3 star with an MVP performance after showing grit to battle through an injury as Azerbaijan's newest hero sealed a golden ticket to Paris for her country. 

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Latvia will be defending their gold medal

Quite fittingly, the first men's 3x3 Olympic champions will be defending their gold medal in Paris. 

And if you've followed Latvia - one of 3x3's powerhouses - over the years then you knew it would be filled with drama and insane finishes. Latvia did not have Karlis Lasmanis - the hero in Tokyo - but it didn't matter because his sidekick Nauris Miezis stepped up and put the cape on. 

More on that in a moment. 

Latvia's wealth of experience appeared to be coming to the fore after cruising through to the semis, but then things got tense against European foe the Netherlands. 

It was basically a mano a mano between Miezis and Worthy de Jong, who is the most explosive scorer in the business. Don't ever doubt Miezis because he was up to the task with a game-high 10 points, including the clutch 2-piece in OT to send Latvia into the final. 

Latvia had an easier time of it against Austria in the final as they showed off their depth of talent with young guns Francis Lacis and Zigmars Raimo proving they are the New Gen. 

But it was MVP Miezis stamping himself as a Latvian legend, but the job's not done yet as he eyes a second gold medal in Paris. 

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Hype Worthy put it all on the line

You knew Worthy de Jong would bring it to Hong Kong. 3x3 has never seen an explosive scorer like him and he continued his scoring binge to average an insane 9.3 ppg - the same mark he hit through the entire World Tour last year. 

He unleashed his usual bag of tricks with insane moves to stamp himself as the ultimate scoring machine in 3x3. 

He put it all on the line only to come up short against Miezis' Latvia in the semis, but his Olympic dream isn't done yet. The Netherlands will be playing at the FIBA 3x3 Universality Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Utsunomiya in just a few weeks. 

And you know Worthy de Jong will be extra determined to realize his country's Olympic dreams. 

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Poles come so close

Poland submitted arguably the best women's performance in Hong Kong when they thumped second seed the Netherlands 20-12 in the semi-final. That confidence continued into the final only for the Poles to fall agonizingly short to Azerbaijan. 

Still Poland should be immensely proud with Marissa Lee Kastanek,  Klaudia Sosnowska and  Aleksandra Zięmborska proving to be a three-headed scoring monster. 

Poland were so close to securing a ticket to Paris, but the bitter disappointment they currently experience should fuel them to greater heights in the future. 


Hong Kong is becoming a favorite 3x3 destination

Hong Kong is quickly becoming an iconic 3x3 destination. The world famous locale has hosted major 3x3 events in the past, but this went up a level with Hong Kong delivering a tournament for the ages. 

The fans were loud and the venue lit as the half-court was the place to be in Hong Kong over those three days. 

And Hong Kong will return as the World Tour journeys back to this spectacular destination later in the year. 

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